yoga

Week 32/The Most Important Thing…

In a recent mindfulness coaching session, a client shared with me her new awareness of what is most important in her life. She expressed finding fulfillment each day and a greater sense of purpose, especially when spending her money in meaningful ways.  She uses her dollars toward something that matters, and the very idea of attending to what matters most to her has started to be the idea that matters the most.

This client shared with me her latest purchase from a website called “Who Gives A Crap”, which sells environmentally-friendly toilet paper and other paper products, and even uses recyclable packaging.  This company gives 40% of their profits to help provide toilets for people around the world.  It may seem like a minor detail, but the idea of being a conscious consumer is one way in which this client remembers what is most important.  And as for providing toilets for other people?  It may sound like a “crappy” job to some, but when you do any task with the intention of improving the lives of other people, it feels like a bonus.

As a psychologist treating complex trauma, I work daily with people who are suffering.  Other people often wonder how I can do this type of difficult work.  In fact, some people see it as a terrible occupation. It doesn’t feel this way to me.  I get to wake up every day and live my purpose – which is to reduce suffering and emotional pain.  It feels like a labor of love.  My second love is to teach mindfulness.  By sharing mindfulness with others, I teach someone “to fish rather than simply feeding them a fish”.  In teaching mindfulness through MBSR and MSC, I help other learn the tools to reduce their own discomfort.  This is what matters most to me.

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.

Week 31/Body Awareness is an Anchor

What exactly is body awareness?  Tolle discusses body awareness as a way to the “inner body” or our life energy.  Yogis call this life energy “Prana”; Buddhists use the word “Chi.” Our minds are often so busy we confuse thinking about and judging our bodies and as being “body aware,” but this is the antithesis of body attunement and awareness. 

Right now take a moment to sense your fingers from the inside out. You can do this with eyes open or closed– it’s not looking at your fingers, but sensing the energy or aliveness that is within each finger and giving your focus to that. If you quiet yourself enough you can actually feel your own essential energy–starting with one small body part and eventually, if the mind doesn’t get in the way, connecting to it throughout your entire body.  
The purpose of this is to connect with a more peaceful, aware state.  If you are agitated with a current circumstance, taking a few breaths and practicing some inner bodyawareness will help you get grounded and clear. This can prevent reactions with others and/or a way to catch negative impulses going on in your own mind; because IT IS beyond the mind. It also helps you be more in tune with your body’s natural desires for food, water, exercise, sleep, play, rest, etc. 

It is amazing how much people push and punish their bodies, demanding  from them more and more, and then become surprised when they crash- physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.  Accessing body awareness is not just a way to become more present for the bodies’ needs, it’s a way to simply become more aware.  As a practice in itself it creates an inner atmosphere of increased tolerance, kindness, patience, and calm—a surefire way to enhance every circumstance.

Photography by Ciro Coehlo

Anni Johnston, LMHC-S, BC-D/MT, CEDS, CYT works at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Movement Therapist.  In addition to her therapy work, Anni offers weekly Beginner and Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse.  She also offers book studies and special workshops throughout the year.

Week 22/ What Holds Your Attention?

Take a moment and contemplate the last time you just stopped.  You weren’t checking email, texts, watching TV, doing bills or errands… you were just resting.  Our culture is concerned with “what we do (for a living),” “what we did (on the weekend),” or “what was done (at work).”  But this constant striving, outputting of energy is costing us all. We are tense with our children and spouses, we are short with co-workers, or unable to appreciate our friendships because our “to do” lists seem to be constantly knocking on our inner doors.  This keeps us out of balance.
 
The masculine energy of action (both men and women have this) is a wonderful driver, but the feminine energy (yes men have this too) of being and receiving is an essential counterpoint to all the doing.  When I’m on silent retreat, sometimes for 10 or more days, I find in the first few days my mind and nervous system seem to be unspooling from daily life- despite daily yoga and meditation. Not everyone is inclined or able to do long retreats, but everyone can take a day for rest.  The tradition of the Sabbath was to pull us away from our constant doing, to rest and contemplate those things beyond daily life.  A day of rest, even if not done weekly can refresh your Soul and help to put things in perspective. As the old saying goes, “no one wishes on their death bed they’d put more hours in at the job.“ 
 
What we wish for is we’d taken more opportunities to explore, attended to the little moments of sweetness along the way, and had given and received more love.  On a Soul level we know this to be true but our mind is always pushing.  Try on a few hours of just resting.  Completely unplug and either alone or with someone dear to you just stop, listen and notice what is right in front of you.  As William Blake says:
                    

“To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
An eternity in an hour.”

Photography by Ciro Coehlo

Anni Johnston, LMHC-S, BC-D/MT, CEDS, CYT works at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Movement Therapist.  In addition to her therapy work, Anni offers weekly Beginner and Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse.  She also offers book studies and special workshops throughout the year.

Week 19/SAVOR: Discovering the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

After maintaining a consistent mindfulness practice,  you may begin to notice what feels like a slowing-down of time. Yes! Like time is actually moving slower! This, in fact, was the first and maybe even the most precious gift I received in my early days of practicing meditation regularly.  What a joy to have more time for things … imagine how much more I could accomplish!
 
What accompanied this sense of slowing-down, though, were an insatiable curiosity, a desire for stillness, and an overall sense of peace.  I found that while I felt time moving more slowly, I didn’t want to fold more laundry or organize more of my garage … rather, I wanted to see, hear, smell and feel the world around me in 3-D technicolor … I wanted to immerse myself in the beauty of others, nature and of all of life itself. I began to allow myself to drink in the freckled cheeks of my children and to linger in the scent of my lover’s freshly shaven face. Rather than devouring my meals in front of the TV, I began to deconstruct the complex flavors I’d spun together and reveled in the multi-sensory experience of my food. This desire to savor my daily experiences has led me to discovering so much extraordinary in the ordinary. And even more, I have begun to see opportunity where there seemed only roadblocks, connection where conflict might have been, and calm where there may once have been storm.
 
Savoring allows us to not just be fully present in the moment-to-moment experiences of life, but encourages us to lean into these experiences in order to encode memories for later retrieval. Additionally, research shows that humans tend to adapt to positive experiences really quickly, leading to the well-known “honeymoon” effect of intense joy about a joyful or positive event that quickly wears off.  When we attend intently and mindfully to these moments, science says we can extend these honeymoon phases of life, leading to more joy. It is the attention-grabbing nature of savoring what is pleasant that increases contentment and gratitude. And with our powerful tendency towards remembering and creating stories around negative experiences (aka the negativity bias) it is all the more valuable for us to take that extra few moments to wrap ourselves up in the beauty that is right now.
 
I encourage you to take the time to savor in your day-to-day life too, whether you practice mindfulness regularly or not.  Use this mnemonic to help you:
 

SAVOR 

Slow Down — intentionally move more slowly through your day when you can, allowing for the opportunity to notice more of what you encounter.
 
Attend — bring your awareness and attention to whatever you are doing or observing.  Use your senses to explore the experience fully.
 
Value — acknowledge the extraordinary in the experience and how your being present for it brings value to your life.
 
Open — allow for a sense of openness and willingness to see things from a new perspective or vantage point.
 
Reflect — once the experience has passed or ended, take an opportunity to call to mind what you experienced and see if you notice similar emotions arise.

Nicole Davis is a licensed clinical psychologist at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches  Dr. Davis has received extensive training in mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, and maintains her own personal practice in these as well.  At Sacred Treehouse, she facilitates group mindfulness courses, including Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention, and other mindfulness-based seminars and workshops. She also offers meditation & yoga classes at Sacred Treehouse.

Week 18/Allowing Pain & Suffering to Be Our Guides

Do you want to suffer less and have more happiness and contentment in your life? The word duhkha is a common word in Yoga and Buddhist philosophy – it translates as suffering. Most of us think that pain and suffering are synonymous, but what if I told you that one was actually optional?

Pain might be the experience of grief, sadness, anger and any other emotion or perhaps a physical experience of pain, but none of these are suffering. Pain is actually separate from suffering – we experience the physical or emotional pain of an event when it happens, but it is our RESPONSE to that pain, and our ongoing RELATIONSHIP with that pain, that leads to our optional suffering.

A common experience is when a parent/spouse/child – someone with whom you have an ongoing, intimate relationship – has done something in the past that has hurt you or made you angry. When it happens again in the present, instead of your current reaction being related to this single occurrence, it gets tied to all past events and emotions as well, leading to pain plus suffering. Then, there can even be anticipatory emotions about what might be coming – suffering for something that hasn’t even occurred! A less charged example is that you stub your toe hard and it really hurts! That’s pain. Now, though, you can’t exercise until it heals and you love and need your exercise; you’re very upset about this. That’s suffering.

Being free from suffering does not mean you are working toward not feeling, toward a somehow emotionless life; this is a misunderstanding. We experience and become a witness to our emotions, but we are NOT our emotions. They are discrete experiences, right here, right now. It’s not a denial of emotional pain, but a shift in perspective – it is what it is, as people now say, and nothing more.

It’s our attachment to what is pleasant, our aversion to unpleasantness, and our linking of experiences together that causes the suffering – the wanting and the pushing away. Allow the pain/emotion to rise, experience it, be a present witness to it, try not to identify with it, and then, be mindful to not feed it or let it get tied to anything other than this present moment. It takes practice, and acceptance is key! Hopefully, over time, this will help you create a different relationship with your pain.

Yours, in service, K.O.

Practice Steps:

  1. Notice the emotion or physical sensation that is present (the pain), like a worry or tension in the body.
  2. Pause – be curious about it. Make a conscious decision to look at it.
  3. Allow the feeling or sensation to fully rise up within you, being conscious that the feeling or emotion is simply an experience – try not to identify with it as anything other than an experience. Keep the experience to the “right now” moment and be conscious not to get caught up in the past.
  4. Observe any insight that might arise around the sensation or emotion. Be mindful to stay present in the “now” as an objective observer.
  5. Have compassion for the pain you are experiencing.
  6. Connect within yourself to a feeling of wholeness and spaciousness.
Kathy Ornish, c-IAYT

Kathy Ornish is a practicing and certified yoga therapist (c-IAYT) and a certified yoga teacher (E-RYT-500). She serves as Senior Faculty at Gary Kraftsow’s American Viniyoga Institute where she is Faculty Specialist in the Viniyoga Foundations Program for Teaching and Yoga Therapy. Kathy’s yoga therapy practice involves addressing individual’s structural, physiological, and emotional conditions. Her primary emphasis in all her teaching is the breadth of the yoga tradition using the appropriate application of the many tools of yoga in hopes that she can help people realize their highest potential.  Coming this Fall, KO will be offering workshops and one-to-one yoga therapy appointments at Sacred Treehouse. For more information, visit sacredtreehouse.org.  You may also visit her website at goodspaceyoga.com.

Week 9/A Reflection on Energy and Resources

Although birthdays, anniversaries, religious holidays, and new years are wonderful times to consider where one’s energy and resources have been spent, any moment where the consciousness has time to reflect is also worthy of our consideration.  For in reality, we all have a limited amount of life force to give to our lives and to those around us.  But this reflection is not just about quantity, it also speaks to the quality of our interactions, the intention behind our actions, and the focus of our mind.  

Most of us have demanding lives, yet through simply noticing whatenergy we bring to those demands, we have the ability to create a shift in ourselves and whomever we’re interacting with. Where we spend or apply our resources helps us to make a statement. Our resources are a form of support – consider the power of this reflection. Even the simplest choice of where and how to spend our money, time, charitable giving, and/or attention creates a ripple effect. Every day can be a mindfulness practice on the use of energy and resource- how powerful.

Photography by Ciro Coehlo

Anni Johnston, LMHC-S, BC-D/MT, CEDS, CYT works at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Movement Therapist.  In addition to her therapy work, Anni offers weekly Beginner and Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse.  She also offers book studies and special workshops throughout the year.

Week 8/Discover Your Drishti

I am by no means a yoga enthusiast, but I was admittedly intrigued when I was introduced to the Sanskrit word drishti, which translates to “sight”.  If you attend yoga regularly, you may already be aware of this yogic practice.  Drishti is a gazing practice used to help assist with balancing poses, such as Tree Pose.  Drishti is also used to promote a meditative state.  By choosing our focus, we are better able to go within.
 
This sentence bears repeating: By choosing our focus, we are better able to go within.
 
Humans are on sensory overload.  We have a 24 hours news cycle and multiple avenues of technology that compete for our constant attention.  Add to the mix our family, friends, co-workers – even our pets! Being constantly accessible to the mini-computers we carry around all day means that our focus is divided.  If we don’t make the conscious decision to choose our focus, we live in imbalance.  We lose touch with our most vital energy: our heart space.
 
Drishti is not limited to yoga; it is a mindfulness practice that we use to cultivate our inner wisdom.  How can we apply drishti to our own lives?

  • Take a few moments each day to soften your gaze.  Purposefully pick something within your sight and focus on the object.  It could be a flower or candle flame.  Let your gaze settle on that object.
  • Create technology free space.  Make a commitment to turn your gaze away from social media and other distractions.  Allow yourself to be on “airplane mode”.  Then use this time to open your heart space through meditation, journaling, or a daily reading.
  • Find your tribe.  In this application, we are not using drishti in the literal sense.  Instead, we are connecting with others.  This may mean that you choose to spend time with a dear friend that you haven’t seen in awhile, or participate in a group activity that you have neglected.

As it is written in The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  To truly see what is essential, we must set an intention to discover our drishti. 

Remove distractions.  Find your focus.  Open your heart space.  

Sara Goldstein works for Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches. She edits and designs “52 Weeks of Mindfulness” for Sacred Treehouse. Sara is a writer, reader, and lover of poodles. Although she practices yoga infrequently, she enjoys meditation and mindfulness practice.

Meet Kathy Ornish, C-IAYT

Yoga Therapist & Teacher Kathy Ornish, c-IAYT
Pairs With Sacred Treehouse to Offer Meditation Workshop

Sacred Treehouse is pleased to announce that guest moderator Kathy Ornish, c-IAYT, will host “Introduction to Meditation”, beginning in late November.  This workshop is ideal for those curious about meditation or for anyone looking to strengthen their practice.  Through this dynamic and interactive workshop, participants will learn how to create a comfortable seated pose; practice systemic relaxation to focus and relax the mind; discover the five basic steps of meditation; learn how to use a mantra; and develop an understanding of our relationship to silence.

Classes will be held on Mondays, 10:00-11:30 a.m., starting November 27th and Wednesdays, 5:30 – 7:00 p.m., beginning November 29th.  More information is available at sacredtreehouse.org.

About Kathy Ornish, c-IAYT:

 

Kathy Ornish is a certified yoga therapist and teacher through the American Viniyoga Institute (AVI), where she is a faculty member for the Viniyoga Foundations Program for Teaching and Yoga Therapy.  She is also a certified ParaYoga teacher, as well as a consultant at the Preventative Medicine Research Institute in California.  K.O. is Owner and Director at Good Space Yoga in East Lansing, Michigan, where she has a yoga therapy practice and teaches group classes.  Her primary emphasis is on teaching the breadth of the yoga tradition using the appropriate application of its many tools to help people realize their highest potential.  She is excited to share her passion for mindfulness with the Sacred Treehouse community.

Is Your Yoga Practice SAFE?

Is Your Yoga Practice SAFE?

Alyana Ramirez, E-RYT 200

Alyana Ramirez, E-RYT 200

North America’s yoga industry has grown exponentially in the past 10 years. Over 36 million people practice yoga in the United States – a number that has doubled since 2012.   Doctors are recommending yoga for everything from Parkinson’s Disease to PTSD. Even at social gatherings, groups of yoga enthusiasts can be found discussing how amazing they feel after their first month of yoga classes. With this increase in popularity also comes a plethora of new yoga teachers and classes. With so many new teachers and studios popping up on every corner, practitioners have more choice than ever. Yoga is a broad term for a very complex and varied practice. It’s difficult to know what you’re walking into when you walk into your new neighborhood studio, or even a class taught by a different instructor. When presented with so many different choices, it becomes clear how essential it is to offer a yoga program which creates an inclusive and safe environment for every practitioner. SAFE Yoga (Sensitive Approach For Everyone) is a yoga program which honors the heart of yoga practice.

At its heart, the practice of yoga is a practice in meditation – an effort to create more connection between mind, body, and the present moment. In application, the importance our culture places on physical appearance, fitness, and youth has pressured many yoga teachers to modify classes so that the physical benefits of the practice are emphasized. With classes named CorePower Yoga and teachers encouraging students to “push to your edge”, “burn off your Thanksgiving dinner”, or “do more, reach further”, the practice becomes unrecognizable. While there’s nothing wrong with taking care of our bodies, making this the primary focus means that practitioners find themselves walking into yet another self-improvement course. The yoga classroom becomes one more place where we aren’t good enough, strong enough, flexible enough, or young enough, as opposed to the mindful, self-compassionate practice that it was originally intended to be.

When a healthy individual goes into a class described above, it can be frustrating but probably won’t have lasting negative effects. They might still receive some level of benefit from the practice, enjoy the movement and breathing, and receive some inspiration. But what about an individual who comes in with an injury, body dysmorphia, or depression? In these cases, asking them to push harder, do better, or burn more calories can actually be dangerous.

Every person that walks into a yoga class is an individual in the truest sense of the word. We all are coming in with a different body type, background, fitness level, and mental and/or physical health concerns. While it is common for a yoga teacher to make adjustments for visible injuries or limitations, many people will walk into an open class with a concern that is not easily visible. Over 3 million people are diagnosed with a herniated spinal disc every year. 1 in 5 Americans struggles with mental illness annually. At any given time, almost 10% of the U.S. population is dealing with anxiety, major depression, or bipolar disorder, and over 31 million people have struggled with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Additionally, between 10-15% of the U.S. population suffers from an eating disorder.

Even for individuals who aren’t coming into class with an identifiable physical or mental health issue, the Western approach to yoga can have the opposite of its intended effect. Orthopedic surgeons report an increase in the need for hip replacements on younger patients who are also yoga teachers, and also note that it is not uncommon to see devoted yoga practitioners coming in with chronic pain in their shoulders, elbows, and necks. It’s easy to see how hot yoga, an extremely popular style, can be dangerous when practiced in a 104 degree room, possibly leading to dehydration or overstretched ligaments.

This doesn’t mean that the benefits of yoga aren’t real. Many individuals do experience real healing through yoga. But when practitioners are pushed by their teachers to do things that aren’t appropriate for their circumstances, real damage can occur. Making sure a teacher is well informed on the different mental and physical conditions that may require modifications in the practice is one step to reducing this risk. Of course, it isn’t possible for teachers to be aware of the unique needs of every single practitioner in their group class, nor would it be possible for them to modify the class in a way that works for everyone in it. Therefore, it is essential that teachers learn how to encourage their students in a different way, empowering them to do what is most compassionate for themselves in the moment.

If we can make mindful meditation the guiding focus of classes again and recognize the uniqueness of every individual, yoga becomes more accessible for populations that can deeply benefit but may have avoided the practice due to misinformed or insensitive instruction. And isn’t accessibility really the point? Non-harming and compassion for self and others is a core tenet of yoga philosophy. If we want to promote this practice as a source of healing, peace, and strength, we need to do everything possible to make yoga accessible to everyone who wants them.

Alyana Ramirez has been studying the integration of yoga, health, and human behavior for over 10 years.  She has trained in trauma sensitive yoga, is certified in yoga for mental health, and has had students of all ages and abilities.  She has seen firsthand how thoughtful, intentional movement, when built on a foundation of mindfulness, can be the first step to more positive relationships – with both ourselves and the world around us.

Reflections on MBSR: Silent Retreat

MBSR alumni have discussed with great enthusiasm the silent retreat, which takes place during week six.   The retreat has taken on a mythical quality. Until one experiences the retreat, it remains an elusive and unknowable experience. There are many layers to this special time. It is such an amazing experience to just spend a day completely devoted to looking inward. No communication and minimal eye contact with others. The idea is to cultivate a space of self-awareness and non-judgment, not comparing or striving to emulate others.   By creating an external space of silence, we facilitate the ability to look inward.

With this sacred space created, we start the retreat with a short meditation. We set our intention for the day.   Our group transitions to yoga, which helps facilitate the mind-body connection. Thinking about participating in yoga has brought me the most anxiety, yet I am pleasantly surprised by how good each movement feels in connection with my breath. By savasana (corpse pose), I am completely relaxed. It would be fine if we just lay on our mats for the remainder of the day. That’s not on the agenda, though.

We gather into a circle and begin another short meditation, before participating in the walking meditation. The conference center where the retreat is being held has two labyrinths.   According to the Duncan Center’s website, the labyrinth “is a path and spiritual tool for growth, discernment, prayer and healing”.

We pace our starts and slowly start the winding way toward the center. Some walk somberly while others gently dance with the path. My own pace is slow. I find myself distracted by my other classmates. A large palmetto bug scurries across the path toward the middle. My instinct is to scream and run, but instead I continue walking toward the middle – symbolically walking toward my fear. I will later share this insight during our closing, attempting to turn the bug’s presence into something significant. (As an aside – most of us started from the wrong direction and did not end up making it to the center correctly. An excellent time to practice non-judgment!)

After the labyrinth, we have the option of either journaling or sitting quietly until lunch. I take that time to write down my reflections in my notebook. I don’t have any discomfort in not speaking with others. It is normal for me to keep to myself. What comes harder for me is giving up the niceties of daily living – offering someone a chair, blessing them when they sneeze, or using please and thank you in interactions.

It is those interactions that are most missed when we break for lunch. It is strange to splinter off from everyone else and eat lunch in silence. Even those sharing the dining room with our group sense our dedication to mindfulness. I choose a table that is tucked away in a corner. As instructed by Dr. Shutt, I really take a moment to observe the shape and color of the food before me. My inclination is to tear into the warm, buttered roll before me. Instead, I start with my salad. In between bites, I set my fork on my plate. I meditate on the softness of the chickpea, the fleshly qualities of my raisin, and the creaminess of blue cheese dressing. I honestly don’t think I could eat like this everyday; however, I vow to myself that I will try to eat at least three mindful meals per week.

After lunch, Dr. Shutt leads us through one of my very favorite meditation practices, metta (compassion) meditation. We start by extending compassionate thoughts to ourselves, expanding to those who we love, our friends, acquaintances, and eventually those we find challenging. I visualize my husband, my dog and cats, family members, the great people I call my coworkers, the kindness of random strangers, and that one cousin who really gets on my nerves. During the practice, I see the color purple surrounding everyone. Superficially, purple is my favorite color. It represents the women’s movement and I identify with it strongly. Purple also is the crown chakra color, and is symbolic of spirituality, reconciliation, and balance. Whatever the significance, my meditation is colored in various shades of violet.

Gathered in our circle, we finish the day by breaking silence and sharing our experiences. I really am sad for the day to end. I can easily see myself participating in a future ten-day retreat. I don’t want to misrepresent the experience as easy. Meditation and silence is extremely challenging and it forces you to sit with your inner turmoil. I have been on both sides, and I can tell you that I would rather sit in silence than react in fear. I am grateful to share this practice with such amazing people.